Self Service Supermarket Checkout – a case study of customer resistance

[Work In Progress]

Customer resistance to an innovation is an aspect of service innovation less obvious in product innovation. It relates to when customers have actively decided they will not use an offered service innovation. Note that this is It is different to the adoption challenge – getting end customers familiar with and using an innovation. In fact, some ways of solving the adoption challenge may increase customer resistance.

Supermarket self-service checkouts are a good example to observe customer resistance in action.


In the “old” days at supermarkets you would put your products in a basket or trolley as you walked around.  At the end of your shop you would queue to empty your basket at the cashier who would scan your items and take your payment.  This serviced check-out takes up a large footprint and so there are a limited number, and this creates queues.

The innovation is to introduce self-service checkouts.  Taking a product-dominant approach: these have a smaller footprint, so there can be more of them and therefore the queues, which everyone hates, will be reduced.  As they are no longer manned with one person per checkout the store can reduce costs.  In terms of adoption, we can tick off Roger’s perceived attributes:

  • relative advantage – of course, less queues.
  • compatibility – same technology you see the cashiers use
  • complexity – pretty simple, scan the bar code, pay
  • trialability – they are in the store, try them.
  • observability – they are in the store, and most serviced check-outs have been removed.

Other aspects of Rogers’ rate of adoption are poorely addressed.  For example, the type of innovation decision is seen by the store as optional – the customer can choose whether to use the new or old checkouts.  However, by the customer, the innovation decision can be seen as authoritarian – due to the mass conversion of serviced to self-service checkouts rather than small number.  

How successful have they been?  At least in the UK and Sweden I’ve observed large parts of the serviced checkouts removed and converted to self check out, “for my convenience”. But I also see they are mostly unused and a large number of people opting for the few remaining serviced checkouts (at least in proportion to the check outs provided).

Why are they not as successful as (store owners) expected?

What we are now encountering are some of the additional aspects of service innovation that are either not present in product innovation or not as important.  In this case:

  • customer resistance.  I actually do not want to use the self-service checkouts as i can see (or at least feel) that the store is doing it for their benefit (cutting staff costs) rather than really for my benefit.  
  • co-value generation is low. By offering the self service checkout the store should save money and I should gain time, but the store pushes too much responsibility on me.
  • customer experience.  I am treated as a thief by default with “unexpected item in bagging area” messages being shouted out by the machine, cameras everywhere and gates to get out of the area as well as staff and security watching me.
  • value is contextual.  If I have a few items, am in the middle of London at rush hour, then yes, this might have value to me; on a relaxing Saturday afternoon with a lot of items, less so.  Another way of looking at this is to say the relative advantage is contextual.

Some work is needed before customers’ resistance will be reduced. We’ve probably all seen the work Amazon is doing with cameras and machine learning to give a frictionless checkout:

Panasonic are taking an alternative approach.

Customer expectations from other markets/industries

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